Columbia’s new dual MBA, executive master’s degree in engineering program hopes to make students fluent in business and tech

BY Preston ForeSeptember 18, 2023, 7:30 PM
Photo illustration of Columbia University's campus highlighted in blue and surrounded by a light blue frame.
Photo illustration by Fortune; Original photo by Getty Images

For students at the intersection of business and technology, finding ways to get ahead can sometimes be more difficult than it sounds. Oftentimes, obtaining a MBA can be an effective way to not only boost your leadership skills on paper, but also provide you with the most up-to-date skills in problem solving and applying new developments.

But for those seeking to meet business challenges head-first, especially in the realms of tech and engineering, Columbia University is now offering a way for aspiring leaders to effectively gain two Ivy-League educations in just 20 months. 

Earlier this month, the university welcomed its first cohort for the dual MBA and executive master’s of science in engineering and applied sciences degree program.

For Harry West, a professor of practice at Columbia’s engineering school, the new dual degree’s integration of business and engineering practices into specialized classes—and all under two years—is what makes the program unique.

“We need people in senior leadership positions to understand technology,” West tells Fortune. “There’s also tremendous opportunity for those people who are both fluent in technology and business, and so we wanted to create a new offering that would speak to students with that ambition.”

In summer of 2022, the plan for the new dual degree was announced as a partnership in conjunction with Columbia Engineering and Columbia Business School. According to Fortune’s list of 2023 best MBA programs, Columbia ranks No. 6. 

During students’ first year, they will take a variety of core courses from the two university schools. Then, in their second year, students will take electives and fulfill concentrations in engineering and business topics like entrepreneurship, robotics & smart machines, and medical device design.

Solving some of the world’s toughest challenges

West notes that a large objective of the program is to not only equip students with in-demand tools and skills but also to think of the world and its challenges in different ways.

“What I’ve decided is my job right now is to get the students right at the beginning of the program to throw their cards up in the air and then shuffle their hand and think again about what it is they want to do in the next two years,” he says.

Students can use the skills they learn in the dual degree to address some of the largest global risks, the likes of climate change, AI, and inequalities, West hopes. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report notes ecosystem collapse, large-scale migration, and natural resource crises as among the most severe long term global risks.

“In some ways, they’re terrifying challenges that we’re facing, but they’re also extraordinary opportunities,” West says.

The dual degree program is a “perfect” fit for those aspiring to have roles like vice president of engineering, chief technology officer, or chief operating, according to its website. Graduates may also go on to lead start-ups or innovate new product development.

For the first cohort, 28 students were accepted—all with a broad array of backgrounds and goals. West says students must have a background in STEM and at least two years of professional experience. The program plans to expand its cohort sizes gradually over time.

Leveraging the worlds of tech and business

One of the students in the first cohort is Vijay Krishnan. 

With a tech background, having worked at Panasonic, Northrop Grumman, and Amazon—as well as founding his own consumer Fintech start-up, he wanted more than just a traditional MBA when looking to go back to school. He had an interest in the latest tech skills and learning how to apply them through an expert business lens. 

“I really saw a perfect fit between my future interests in pursuing entrepreneurship and what the mission of the program was, and I was also really excited about all the resources that they were providing for the start-up ecosystem, and for entrepreneurs, that I could potentially leverage,” Krishnan tells Fortune

Just days into taking West’s own course about the frontiers of tough tech, Krishnan says the way he thinks about future ventures has already changed.

Applications for the next program cohort are already open. Along with submitting a joint online application and fee, those interested must provide a resume, essays, two letters of recommendations, transcripts, and a GMAT or GRE score. The deadline for round 1 is October 4, 2023.

The estimated cost of tuition of the program for 2023-2024 is $91,070, with merit- and need-based financial aid packages available. The dual degree notes that prices typically increase the second year to meet changes in cost of instruction. 

Krishnan’s advice for students interested in the program? Be focused—but also very open-minded.

“Have a defined set of areas that you’re passionate in to help drive your academics but at the same time keep an open mind to a world of possibilities that you may encounter at school,” he says.